As he got ready for the tip-off before a sellout home crowd against second-ranked Kansas last January, Perry Jones III, Baylor's 6'11" freshman prodigy, felt pangs of doubt. "I was thinking, I hope I don't mess up," Jones recalls in regard to the first big game of his career. "Then when Coach [Scott] Drew called a play for me, I was like, I hope I don't miss the shot." Jones calmed down enough to score 20 points, but he had only two rebounds as the Bears lost 85--65.
Jones's promising but inconsistent freshman season got worse from there. Baylor lost five of its last six games to miss the Big Dance, and just before the Big 12 tournament he was suspended for six games by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits while he was in high school. (Without their star, the Bears lost in the first round.) His team's lackluster finish, and those pangs of doubt, prompted Jones to turn down the chance to be a top five NBA draft pick in April and return to Waco for his sophomore year. "I felt like I didn't accomplish what I wanted to," Jones says. "The seniors tell me how great it is to play in the NCAA tournament. I want to experience that."
The Bears should do more than simply experience March Madness this year. Jones is one of four returning starters, and Drew has brought in two of the nation's top freshmen in 6'9" forward Quincy Miller and 6'4" guard Deuce Bello, who were high school teammates in High Point, N.C. Jones, Miller and 6'7" senior Quincy Acy will be the most formidable frontline outside of Chapel Hill or Lexington. Point guard Pierre Jackson, the junior college (Division I) player of the year at Southern Idaho, will help Baylor improve its assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranked 294th in the nation (0.75 to 1).
Jones will sit out the season's first five games to complete his suspension, but don't expect the Bears to suffer this time. "We don't have to play through one guy," Drew says. "We have balance, and that's hard to guard." Should anyone forget what this team's ultimate goal is, Drew had the Bears' practice court resurfaced to look like the one that will be used at the Final Four, right down to the words louisiana superdome on the baseline. Anybody can redecorate, but Baylor is one of the few teams in America with the potential to make that floor plan a reality.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Scott Drew (9th season)
2010--11 RECORD 18--13 BIG 12 7--9 (T-7th)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Not selected
*Junior college stats
‚Ä†High school stats
20 WINS IN THREE of the last four seasons. Before Scott Drew arrived nine years ago, the Bears had surpassed this mark just three times in their history.
Pierre Jackson and Quincy Miller evolve quickly into double-digit scorers, easing the burden on Perry Jones and paving the way for a trip to New Orleans.
Height can only take a team so far. Baylor's inexperienced guards can't deliver big buckets, and the Bears bow out in the NCAA tournament's first round.
PERRY JONES Now that his confidence level has reached that of his superior skills, the big man should deliver on his enormous promise.